Five killed by police during anti-coup protests in Peru

Enduring brutal police repression, tens of thousands of Peruvians have been protesting in different parts of the country, demanding closure of the Congress, new elections and new constitution through a Constituent Assembly

December 12, 2022 by Tanya Wadhwa
Since December 7, tens of thousands of Peruvians have been protesting in different parts of the country, demanding closure of the Congress, new elections and new constitution through a Constituent Assembly. Photo: Wilson Chilo / Wayka Peru

Since December 7, tens of thousands of Peruvians have been protesting in different parts of the country in rejection of the parliamentary coup that took democratically elected left-wing President Pedro Castillo out of office and led to his arrest. On December 7, Peru’s right-wing dominated unicameral Congress approved the third vacancy (impeachment) motion against Castillo. Hours following his removal from office, he was arrested and charged with allegedly “breaching constitutional order” for having tried to dissolve the Congress before the vote on the motion.

Citizens’ resistance

For the past five days, the protesters have been organizing peaceful mobilizations and roadblocks across the national territory demanding that former President Castillo be immediately released and reinstated as the president of the country.

In the capital Lima, despite heavy police repression, the protesters have been maintained a nearly permanent protest in front of the Congress. Another central demand of protesters has been the effective dissolution of the right-wing-controlled parliament. Some have also demanded that fresh elections be organized to change the country’s legislature.

The protesters have also expressed their rejection of the appointment of Castillo’s Vice President Dina Boluarte as the new president. They are calling for Boluarte’s resignation, arguing that she is not an elected leader. They also condemned her for making a political alliance with the right-wing to govern.

The citizens are also demanding that a Constituent Assembly be called to draft a new constitution to replace the current neoliberal one, which was written and imposed in 1993 during the dictatorship of Alberto Fujimori (July 1990–November 2000). They have stressed that it is time that this long-standing demand of the Peruvian people be addressed and fulfilled. Before being overthrown, Castillo had declared that the Congress would remain dissolved until the Constituent Assembly was installed, making good on his presidential campaign promise.

In addition to the capital, protests against the coup have been registered in regions across the country including Andahuaylas, Arequipa, Trujillo, Iquitos, Madre de Dios, Ica, Tacna and Huacho provinces.

Police repression

The police have been responding to these peaceful protests with violence and repression. The police officers have been using tear gas and even live bullets against demonstrators.

According to reports from local media and the National Ombudsman Office, at least two protesters, 15 and 18 years old, were killed in police repression on Sunday, December 11, in the city of Andahuaylas, in Apurímac region. On Monday December 12, in the city of Chincheros, the local hospital confirmed that two protesters died as a result of the police repression, including a 16-year-old and 26-year-old Jonathan Lloclla Loayza. A fifth protester was killed in Arequipa by police.

In the early hours of Sunday morning, residents had been demonstrating outside the local airport in Andahuaylas and blocked the entrance. In an attempt to unblock the airport, the police agents brutally repressed the people. Videos on social media showed the police running over a woman and attacking the press. In the incident, over 20 people were severely injured and over a dozen were arrested. The hospital in the city reported that one of the deceased died due to a gunshot injury in the neck.

The same day, the police also violently repressed the residents in Arequipa and Ica, who had blocked the Pan-American highway since December 7 in protest. The police reopened the highway, but failed to dismantle other roadblocks maintained by the residents, mainly erected by peasant and Indigenous communities, across the provinces.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Peru condemned “the death of a minor and a young man in Andahuaylas, Apurímac,” and called for “a prompt, impartial and exhaustive investigation of the facts, providing access to justice to the next of kin of the victims.” The OHCHR also urged Peruvian citizens and authorities to maintain “calm” and avoid “escalation of tensions,” stressing that “the right to peaceful assembly must be guaranteed.”

Upon the confirmation of two deaths in Andahuaylas, the protesters intensified the measures of protests across the country. The residents of Arequipa immediately organized the closure of the local airport in solidarity.

The social organizations from Apurímac called for an indefinite regional strike, starting at zero hours on December 12. The Agrarian and Rural Front of Peru (FARP), an umbrella organization bringing together over a dozen Indigenous, peasants, women’s movements and social organizations, also called for an indefinite national strike beginning Tuesday, December 13.

In response to increasing popular pressure, in the early hours of Monday, December 12, President Boluarte announced that she would send a bill to Congress to advance the general elections to April 2024.

She also declared a “state of emergency in the areas of high social conflict,” which was denounced as a clear attempt to criminalize protests by various social movements.

Despotism of the Peruvian right

The right-wing opposition majority Congress, which has an 11% approval rating, waged almost constant attempts to overthrow Castillo and destabilize his government as soon as he entered office in late July 2021. On December 12, Congress advanced its attacks and approved a bill to lift Castillo’s immunity, making way for his prosecution. The decision was made by 64 votes in favor, 35 against and 1 against.

Castillo had been preliminarily detained for a period of seven days. Following the removal of his immunity, now, the Prosecutor’s Office can use its powers to request up to 36 months of preventive detention for Castillo.

The Prosecutor’s Office is investigating Castillo for the crimes of rebellion and conspiracy, abuse of authority and public disturbance for announcing the dissolution of Congress. Castillo has alleged that the office is controlled by the oligarchy.

Peruvian activist Daniela Ortiz, in an interview with Multipolarista editor Ben Norton, pointed out that the parliamentary coup against Castillo was aimed at “putting the right in power.”

“It is not about taking down Castillo, it is about putting themselves in power, because it is something that we have seen before. He is not the first president to be taken out by the right-wing, he is actually the third president. And we’re not talking of just any right-wing. We’re talking about the Fujimori right-wing that wants to be in power and continue that dictatorship that we had with Alberto Fujimori. Now, we have Keiko Fujimori, his daughter, and all the people from her party, Popular Force, who are aiming basically to take power and not let anyone be in the executive power. It has been happening for many years. The Popular Force has been controlling the congress and creating the laws to be able to control the executive power and not let the Peruvian people have the president that we have elected,” said Ortiz.

Ortiz added that “the demand to close the Congress was a popular demand. Many of the recent marches, blockades and demonstrations were not against Castillo, but were to push him to work on the agenda he entered with…And what happened was that he did what the people were asking him to do…Many of us understand that the detention of Castillo is absolutely illegal. Even under the rules that they have imposed.”